Hard News by Russell Brown


The scandal that keeps on giving

One of The Guardian's online strengths is its live-blogging of breaking news and political stories. It didn't invent the form, of course, but it can lay claim to a formidable exponent in its senior political correspondent Andrew Sparrow, whose practice is explored here by his colleague Martin Belam.

It would be fair to say that there has never been a political story worthy of live-blogging for so long as the News of the World phone-hacking story and its unending fallout. On this side of the world, political-media junkies get up every morning to discover what drama unfolded while we slept.

Our Sunday papers reported on Sunday morning that Murdoch had summoned the man who used to manage our Sunday papers, New Zealander Tom Mockridge, as a safe pair of hands for the battered News International business. Yesterday morning, Rebekah Brooks had been arrested and Sir Paul Stephenson, Britain's senior cop, resigned on the dot of Morning Report.

This morning was simply weird. Sean Hoare, the former News of the World entertainment reporter turned whistleblower, was found dead. Inevitably, tongues were set wagging by the death of the man with the goods on Andy Coulson -- but Nick Davies' fascinating and moving profile of Hoare notes that Hoare's lifestyle is what seems to have killed him, rather than a News Corp assassin.

Hoare's death fought for front-page billing with a bizarre story about the police taking possession of a bag containing a phone and notes from a bin near Brooks's home. They were claimed by Brooks's husband, who says a friend, er, left it for him. The resignation of another of Scotland Yard's most senior officers, John Yates, seemed positively normal.

Tonight's entertainment -- Brooks and Rupert and James Murdoch appearing to answer questions before the House of Commons committee -- kicks off live at 11.30pm on Sky News. You can read about that in the morning -- or catch the highlights on the amazingly prompt and comprehensive NOTWPhoneHacking channel on YouTube.

The problem for those of us tasked with reflecting these events is that they move so fast we're liable to be caught short. On Saturday, veteran (52 years!) News Corporation wingman Les Hinton actually resigned while Kim Hill was talking to Michael Wolff about Hinton on the radio. They missed the chance to bring that up in the interview by about five minutes.

Well, we're going to tempt fate on Media7 this week and have a crack at the spiralling story of the Murdoch empire.

I'll be talking by satellite to Bruce Guthrie, a former News Limited editor in Australia and the author of Man Bites Murdoch, the story of his bitter falling-out with the family. The first time I spoke to Guthrie, last year, he made some comments on Murdoch and his company that look prescient now. And he wasn't holding back in this new column for the Sydney Morning Herald either.

Then I'll be joined by NBR publisher Barry Colman (a longtime admirer of Murdoch) and Bernard Hickey, to discuss the future for News Corporation -- and for journalism. Jose Barbosa and Sam Mulgrew will be putting the whole thing in context with video tracks.

NB: If you'd like to join us for tomorrow evening's recording, come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ between 5.15 and 5.40pm. Try and drop me a note to say you're coming.


Meanwhile, a few things have stood out from the clamour for me:

Heather Brooke's column arguing that most of the hand-wringing about the rotten relationship between the press and politicians misses "the root cause of this corruption – the secretive system of information patronage." She notes that information that would be free and public in the US is locked up behind privilege in Britain:

This puts journalists wanting to do serious public interest investigations legitimately at a severe disadvantage. The fact is, all information is vulnerable to release – it is simply a matter of the resources someone wants to devote to obtaining it. In Britain information is not equally accessible to all, rather its release depends on one's wealth, power or privilege. Only the richest and most powerful media organisations have a shot at access and they, in turn, only want to expend their resources on investigations they believe will guarantee a story and a big audience – thus the focus is on sex, scandal and celebrity.

This Bloomberg story, revealing that News Corporation's businesses are valued separately at nearly twice the value they are now trading at together under Murdoch's management. The company trades for less versus earnings than any of its rivals. Incredibly, his grip on the empire looks shaky.

Last Wednesday, after our recording, I had a meal and came home to discover (thanks, Toby) that Prime Minister's Question Time at Westminster was streaming live via C-Span. I wound up sitting with a whisky watching this till 1am:

I'd forgotten the pace and intensity of Westminister PMQs on a big day. David Cameron was reckoned to have been rattled. I thought he did pretty well. I couldn't escape the thought that our own Prime Minister would have been melted to a puddle in the first 10 minutes.

There has also been some grim amusement in watching Murdoch media assets rally to the cause. Paul at the Fundy Post nails an awful, disgraceful, disingenuous Wall Street Journal editorial on the phone-hacking.

No part of the empire was ever, of course, going to challenge Fox News Channel for cynical misdirection. James Fallows called this Fox and Friends segment on the phone-hacking "The Most Incredible Thing Fox News Has Ever Done ... Or at least the most amazingly brazen I can think of at this moment":

Do you see what they did there? Wow.

And, finally, I was tickled by this account of Rupert Murdoch's first round of global expansion, from his Wikipedia article:

His first foray outside Australia involved the purchase of a controlling interest in the New Zealand daily The Dominion. In January 1964, while touring New Zealand with friends in a rented Morris Minor after sailing across the Tasman, Murdoch read of a takeover bid for the Wellington paper by the British-based Canadian newspaper magnate, Lord Thomson of Fleet. On the spur of the moment, he launched a counter-bid. A four-way battle for control ensued in which the 32-year-old Murdoch was ultimately successful.

That will do for now. Much in the manner of a Friday music post, you will doubtless have your own links and observations to share. Go to it.

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